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A Home for Latisha’s Family

Latisha has 4 kiddos, a job, a car and works hard at being a single mother.  She has dreamed of a home of her own for them. A place to live, making a mortgage payment instead of paying rent. The problem is the commercial lending system doesn’t have a place for her. Perhaps this or perhaps that.  It doesn’t really matter. The commercial home lenders will not extend credit to her. To hear from some business people, they will not lend to them either. That however is a rant for someone else and someplace else.  This is about Latisha’s new home.

She partnered with Wichita Habitat for Humanity. That meant she had to attend some Home Ownership Classes. She had to have a job and show ability to make her mortgage payments. She is paying rent, which makes a good start.  She had to have her income reviewed. That is only the start.

On Wednesday, the 25th of April, she received the keys to her home.   The picture essay below shows the home construction and the events of the Dedication. The pictures were taken from late February through April 25. I am privileged to have been the Energy Star Rater for this home.  The comments are therefore slightly biased toward the Energy Efficient Features of the home. If you have questions about these, comment below, or contact me.

A home starts with a foundation. In an Energy Star Home, the foundation is insulated. Latisha’s home will not be like this home. This picture was taken with snow on the ground (a pile from shoveling is the cold spot), an outside temperature in the 20’s. This is below the front door, facing east. The attached garage extends east blocking the sun, so this is not any type of solar loading.


The walls are going up!  Exciting time. Latisha was here before leaving for work.  This home is sponsored by ICM.

Items on the Energy Star Thermal Enclosure Checklist include, L: not doubling up the 2×4 for the interior wall to a stud on the exterior wall; R: No uninsulated corners.


Wood is R-1 per inch.  A 2×4 is R-3.5.  The insulation in the wall will be R-13.  Insulation is good, more insulation is better. Higher R-Value is better. This home is built with advanced framing. Instead of 16 inch centers, the studs are placed on 24 inch centers. Less waste!

Windows, properly installed, are important.  The window here has a U-Factor of 0.30 and a SHGC of 0.28. They are Energy Star qualified. The U-Factor is like the R-Value of insulation. It measures heat transfer. The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient measures the amount of sunlight driven warming for the summer.  Both of these numbers, lower is better.








Above left shows the duct work being sealed with duct mastic. The crew from Cook’s HVAC did a great job on this. Homes without sealed ducts typically have duct leakage, which heats and cools the great outdoors, of 10 – 50 cfm per 100 square feet.  This home has less than 4 cfm per 100 square feet.  On the right, the duct work is properly hung and does not have a sharp turn into the duct boot. I’ve audited homes with these air flow problems that have been built in the past few years.  Not here!  Thanks again Cook’s.

This shows a cut out for a bedroom air return. It also shows the drywall clips.  These are another important detail that allow the insulation and drywall to be correctly installed. The bedroom air return assists in comfort.  The heating system can not push air into a room without a way to push it out. About half of the complaints I deal with on cold rooms in the winter have a solution based in adding a return air vent. This duct system was designed using the Air Conditioning Contractors of America standards as published in Manual D.


The insulation inspections shows properly installed Fiberglass Batts. Thanks Northstar Comfort Systems.








These have to be inspected and rated as Grade I.  That means they cannot be compressed, side stapled, or missing around outlet boxes etc.  To be installed correctly your insulation is:

  • Like a bucket of water! If you leave a pinhole, it will leak out!
  • Like a Blanket covering a Baby, it must be smooth and level.

Since the insulation is installed correctly, you will not find the R-Value degraded due to air movement.  The Infrared Image below shows brand new insulation in the wall that was side stapled and compressed.  The temperature outside was 15 degrees when this picture was taken and the insulation is not performing because it was installed wrong.


The finished home!

Now the home is finished.  It is time to close, the mortgage to be signed, and keys given to Latisha.

Left: Greg Gann, Vice Chair of the Wichita Habitat for Humanity Board addresses those gathered at the dedication of the newest Wichita Habitat Home. Watching to his left is Latisha and her children.




Right: Denise Bullock, Wichita Habitat Director of Finance gives Latisha the coupons covering her first year mortgage payments. Watching from front center are Chris Mitchell and Jennier Blundon with ICM, Inc. This home’s sponsor!



I am proud to have been a part of this home and the decreased Electric Bills Latisha will pay.  The bills will save about 23%, at current rates, from a house built to the 2004 codes. Since Wichita (or any area in South Central KS) does not have an Energy Code, it may well save her more.

You can find out more about Energy Star New Homes at the Energy Star Website. You can read about how a Certified Energy Rater can help a homeowner build a good home with Independent Third Party Verification.

The comments and opinions implied or expressed in this post are mine. They do not reflect those of any person or organization mentioned or involved with this project.

The Conversation Continues!

My last posting as part of the ongoing Deep Energy Retrofit #DER conversation regarded a definition of DER.  I made the argument for using a threshold of 30% savings. The specific conversation is in regard to historic homes. There have been several Bloggers involved in this conversation and others reading. You may read my first post HERE.

Sean at SLS Construction has a post that he is maintaining as a startingpoint and links to updates in the conversation. John at Birmingham Pointe is the Preservationist among us? He actually owns and restores these treasures of times past! Peter Troast of Energy Circle has been involved!

Most recently Sean posted some definitions about Historic, home ownership and compliance width various agency requirements!  After reflecting on the discussion It is time for me to pick up the pen for the next post!

During an energy audit of a existing home, I see any number of things related to the efficient use of energy. As I make my list of observations for further examination, I have learned to keep several parameters up front. These would be, in no specific order, Budget, desired outcome, safety, durability, and comfort. I also find it Imperative to remember that I am not in charge, the homeowner is in charge.

There are a number things that I routinely run into during an audit, that are not the most energy efficient. Some are predictable because of the construction techniques used during construction, or the type of construction, or the era in which it was built. Is the house timber framed? Wood stud? Brick clad? Is the house a craftsmen style from the early years of the 20th Century? Masonry Block? Post WWII tract type? Each of these have unique features as well as common improvements that relatively small changes will save some insignificant amounts of Energy. The improvement I can see and model may seem like a no brainier to me, but to the homeowner it becomes almost an insurmountable problem.

One of my first audits was a 1960 ranch with full basement. The homeowner is a young couple and he works construction. Their goal was to get plan of work for him to complete during his down time on the winter. One of the fastest returns for their money was to put some insulation on the basement walls. No problem with blowing into the finished walls. When the recommendation also included 3 inches in the storage areas on the bare walls, my easy to install efficient improvement ran right into the homeowners impression that giving up 3 inches of storage would be a major problem!

Anyone working in the energy improvement field must keep in mind: You must meet the needs and perceptions of the homeowner or nothing happens!  You can have the best ‘fancy dan’ plan with all sorts of neat figures , printouts and scientific backup, if you don’t meet the homeowners need, your plan is worthless.

Another audit was a very large home, 2 story, full basement, 3 bedrooms, 6500 sf!  I spent a full day on this audit. Presented the plan over 2 hours, and another 4 hours in follow up field work. The comfort concern was the 2nd floor rooms on each end of the home were hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  I fixed up a ‘fancy dan’ plan for him. Dropped his $6,400 annual energy bills to $3,200.  Solved his comfort problem with a recommendation to increase the return air in the effected rooms.  Estimated cost for the additional returns was $200.00

He cherry picked the added attic insulation, because he could see the problems.  He did it fast, and soon.  It met his real need which I finally discovered on the 4th visit.  He really didn’t think his energy bills were that high.

Therefore, anyone wishing to complete a DER for a home, must have the Home Owners Approval, and that approval meets the perceived needs of the homeowner – it will not necessarily meet the perceived needs of the ‘Energy Guy’ writing the plan.  You should think of this as “Rule #1”, when all else fails remember Rule #1.








The Second Point of this post is about the Deep in a DER.  Deep Energy Retrofits should meet some type of savings across the board.  The Twitterverse lit up last night when @EnergyVanguard was Tweeted for people to give him a percentage.

Let’s look at Retrofit.

The implication is certainly not a rebuild, or a gut rehab. That would involve taking most of not all the exterior walls back to the studs or other type of internal framework and then rebuilding. If a DER was a Rebuild or a Gut Rehab, why would it be called a Retrofit.

Could you substitute reduction for retrofit? – Yes.  What about rework? Remodel?  Restore? All of those work for me.  They also all imply that the work is more of an improvement to the structure instead of a rebuilding of the structure.

Now that the “R” in DER has been established as improving as opposed to rebuilding, we can move on.  “E” of course is Energy.  Which leaves “Deep”.

Asking how deep is deep reminds me of the wood turning question about gouges:  “How sharp is sharp?”  We have established some limits on Deep.

We know the structure is not going to be rebuilt, we know the structure is not going to have major removal of visible material, only for the purpose of installing energy efficient components, such as insulation.

We also can use ‘Deep’ as meaning not shallow.  Therefore Deep must involve a plan of systematic improvements that total to deep.  This plan will only be implemented as the home owner has the money/time/desires.  This may be over a period of years.  If a deep plan cannot take place over a longer period of time, then I must send you back to read  ‘Rule #1’!

So, deep means more than doing one or two things. It means having a plan.  A plan of improvements that can be phased over a period of years, if need be. A DER would not just involve equipment change out or windows, as most sales types would lead you to believe.  And deep doesn’t mean rebuild.  It therefore falls in the middle.

In the middle means a 50% maximum reduction.  Not being a one or two item improvement plan also means that it should be at least 30% reduction.  Which leaves reduction in what.

We are talking about historic homes.  These homes have history and therefore we know what the energy costs are.  The reduction must be calculated from historical that applies to that home.  Trying to bring in code becomes an exercise in futility.  We have already ruled out rebuilding. We also need to remember ‘Rule #1”.  How does this work out.

If we start with a home built in 1800, with a historical usage of $5,000 annual energy usage, what are we talking about in reductions of usage?  30% would end with a $3,500 annual usage, and 50% would be $2,500.  If you look at a reduction from code, then you introduce an additional step.  You first have to arrive at a code usage; then make the reduction.  So, if the code usage on this home comes in at $3,200, we have range of $1,700 – $2,250; if the code usage comes in at $4,000 the range would be $2,000 – $2,800.

That means we define our DER as:

  • A 30% or more reduction in usage compared to historical.
  • It means the DER is a plan that uses the concept of the ‘House is a System’. It must address the construction of the actual structure. It cannot just consist of generalities. Timberframe is different from Balloon Framing which is different from a 50 year old American Suburban ranch.
  • It allows various parts of the plan to be implemented in phases.
  • And last, but really first – we acknowledge ‘Rule #1’. The home owner is in charge.


Deep Energy Retrofits – A Twitter Conversation

My first Twitter Follower was SLS Construction.  He posted on his blog tonight about a Twitter Convo that I was participating in.

You can read Sean’s Blog Post here.  He does a great job for homeowners in general and for Energy Efficiency.

I jumped into a conversation between my friend John Poole of Derby, Connecticut and Peter Troast of Energy Circle.

John lives in a Derby that is very old.  In Connecticut they have houses that are 200 – 300 years old.  I live in Derby that is not so old. In Kansas and we do not have houses that old. John has a blog about preserving those old houses.  You can read John’s Blog here.  He has a neat Point of View and some very good experience.

Peter is CEO of Energy Circle. They work at explaining problems in building science, and providing real, actionable insights for homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. Energy Circle also provides energy efficient devices and products for consumers and marketing services to Energy Raters and Auditors.

Others that were mentioned in this convo were Chris Laumer-Giddens and Energy Vanguard.  Chris is an Architect and Energy Guy, Energy Vanguard, a twitter handle for Allison Bailes, is a physicist, energy guru and a juggler of some fame.  They hang out in Atlanta and other places, where Ya’ll is common.  You can find them at Energy Vanguard.

Here is a shot of part of the convo, just before I jumped in.








Somewhat later, John (from Derby, CT) posted a link to the Wiki definition of a Deep Energy Retrofit.

Wiki uses a 30% reduction in energy use as a line to define deep as in Deep Energy Retrofit.  I can accept a 30 % reduction for deep.

That level of reduction eliminates, in my climate zone (4), moving from an old 60 AFUE furnace to a 95 AFUE furnace, or a new AC unit, or spending a couple thousand dollars on windows, none of which will reduce an annual energy bill by 30%.  At this level, it would require air sealing work to reduce infiltration, insulation and then take a look at the equipment.

Any discussion of Energy Efficient Improvements, for me, also must involve some type of significant savings to cover the cost, and probably some work that will significantly improve the comfort, quality and durability of the home and the lives of the people living there.

Without going into too much detail in this post, that means most of the cost should be returned in energy savings in a reasonable time frame or work is done for the sake of doing stuff right.  Stuff is safety related, like fire safety, electrical safety or indoor air quality.

When the Twitter Convo seemed to hit the limits of the 140 char blog, Sean suggested that we draft our friend Leah Thayer to help out some how with the issues.  Leah runs the Daily 5 Remodel site and is a connector of people and ideas.  Sean threw out some ideas for a Blog Off type of pushing the 140 limit or perhaps some type of round table to do the same.

This post was to throw out two points on Sean’s wonderful idea and to keep the ball rolling

First the definition of DER – use the Wiki at 30%.  Second, the pushing of the 140 limit should be documented for ourselves and others.  I am open to the options, and look forward to continuing the extended convo.

Speaking of others, at some point AFF got involved with a comment about leakiness.  We all know and appreciate Alexandra’s and Kymberly’s efforts to keep us fit as a fiddle. AFF with her twin KFF are fitness and exercise (please excuse my use of the ‘E’ word?) gurus.

Common Approaches to Heating Your Home: Part III

This is Part III of a 3 part Series.  Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.

Hybrid Heat Pump

This choice is sometimes referred to as a Dual Fuel Heat Pump. It utilized both gas and electricity to heat your home. The efficiency of a heat pump is because at most heating temperatures, it moves heat from outside to inside.

Think about your refrigerator. When the inside warms up to 40•, the food risks going bad, so the fridge finds the heat and pumps in out.  Your food stays refrigerated. At 40• outside, a heat pump can find heat and efficiently bring it inside. This costs less than consuming natural gas, propane or electricity to produce heat in a furnace.

At much lower temperatures, a heat pump will need a boost to maintain the heat. This is an electric resistance strip heater. It is used in emergency and back up situations.

A hybrid heat pump uses a conventional furnace for emergency and back up. This is less expensive than electric resistance heat.

Your Choice

In our climate zone; I believe the rank of these approaches should be:

  1. Geothermal
  2. Hybrid Heat Pump
  3. Traditional Furnace / AC
  4. Air Source Heat Pump

This ranking is based primarily on Efficiency Issues with overall comfort issues second.  This rank considers only long term operating costs. It does not consider capital costs (installation).

There are two primary considerations for all of the installation and ultimately comfort issues.

  • The home must be ready for an efficient heating/ac equipment installation.  This means the thermal envelope must be sealed and well insulated. Your thermal envelope is defined as the basement walls, or crawl space walls, the wall above ground, the ceiling.
  • The calculations for equipment size, and selection must be done professionally. The use of a recognized computer program authorized by the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America); showing the Manual J calculations of the improved home for determining heat loads; and the Manual S calculations to select the equipment. You may wish to have your ductwork reviewed and perhaps resized.  This would call for calculations with ACCA Manual D.

The choice to go with Geothermal or ASHP would mean very little gas usage, only the hot water heater. That could be converted to electric with the ASHP. With a Geothermal Unit, you could utilize a system of hot water that is known as ‘de-superheating’.  It uses otherwise wasted heat from the Heat Pump unit to heat water.

The capital costs of these units in the Wichita area are estimated at:

  • Geothermal:               15-25,000 (open or closed loop)
  • ASHP:                           7 -10,000
  • Hybrid Heat Pump:    7 – 10,000
  • Furnace/AC                 7 -10,000

The Geothermal unit is considered to be a renewable energy source and carries a 30% tax credit, with no limit.  It is available through 2016.

Comfort Note: Conventional Furnaces blow heated air into the duct work at temperatures from 105 – 150; depending and the design factors of the furnace.  If you have come in from the cold and stood neat the supply register of a forced air furnace, you feel the heat.  A heat pump type of heating does not create heat to be blown into the duct work at these high temperatures, a heat pump typically blows air into the ducts at 85 – 105 degrees.  This change can cause people to not like a heat pump; air source or ground source. A hybrid heat pump would provide the same range as a furnace with lower outside temperatures.

Please post your questions below as comments!

A Visit with Mr. Rucker …

IMG_1217These visits stated in 2002, on Super Bowl Sunday.  Seems like my friend Mr Tannahill called Mr Blouin and I to make a trek to visit Mr Rucker, before we all got together for the Super bowl Party that year.

Our families both nuclear and extended had been doing a joint Super Bowl Party for a number of years by 2002. It seemed kinda natural that we would include Mr Rucker that year, even though he was not with us any more.  So, off we went about 10 miles south to Litttleton Cemetery. We wanted to bring Mr. Foster along for the visit.  That was important because Mr. Foster had been a favorite part of Mr. Rucker’s social life for a number of years, and thus part of his friends lives.

IMG_1216In addition to Super Bowl Parties, Mr. Rucker with the three of us and our wives, more or less, had gathered periodically for dinner, some times at a restaurant, or sometimes at someone’s home.  In any case Mr. Rucker made sure that Mr. Foster was there, at least for the preliminaries.  As far as we know, there is no Mrs. Foster.



It is always refreshing to visit Jim on Super Bowl Sunday. Sometimes snow and ice, sometimes slush, sometimes rain or other types of precipitation.  Today was just nice. There are always a few laughs, good stories, we all get caught up on each other.  A few more stories and just guys kicking around.


About 5 years ago, the group grew a little.  Mr. Rucker’s boys had grown up, finished college, gotten married and they joined us.  A great time got just a little larger.

IMG_1218We always decorate when we are done. We also joke about what others coming to visit nearby might think about the décor.  Wondering is not caring in this case.  At some point later in 2002, Mrs. R made a visit and we heard about it.  She promised to bring a sack the next time, smiling! Then her first daughter-in-law went along and we heard about it again.  Then the second daughter-in-law heard went along.  Yes, you know the drill. This year was nice, a sack will accompany someone later in the year.


And, no —  we did not leave Mr. Rucker thirsty.  He has some of Mr. Foster’s fav with him.  When asked why we think it is still there, we laugh!  No one put in a bottle opener!

Jim Rucker  1942 – 2001  – Super Bowl Sunday – Celebrating our Friendship! A Super Bowl Sunday Tradition!

Labor Day

Friday winds down and I think of the 3 day weekend known as Labor Day. This has been a time of family for me. One of the first, I was 8. My father’s parents came up; 650 miles from Berkeley, CA to Weiser, ID. We spent the holiday working in the yard. I remember that Grandpa was very involved as a gardener and my dad wanted to get the most help from him.

In recent years, Labor Day has been a time to celebrate Birthdays. My wife’s mother was September 5, so there was always cake.

This year will be quiet and a time to reflect. A time to give thanks for what we have, and for what we hold dear.

We give thanks for jobs that provide for our needs. We ask the leaders in Topeka and Washington to seek to to do the right things and not do things for political advantage.

And we will find time to have a nice family holiday meal.

What do you plan for this Holiday Weekend?

Energy Efficient Mortgages

Ray Hall has been doing efficient energy work in California for many years. Here is a link to his video on Energy Efficient Mortgages.

These can be FHA, VA or Conventional types. They allow the cost, of qualified energy improvements, such as additional insulation, other improvements to the building shell and newer more efficient heating and cooling systems, to the mortgage amount. This applies to your first loan on the property or a refinancing loan. The concept of a qualified energy improvement is one that shows enough cost savings to support the additional cost of the mortgage payment.

If you qualify for a loan, you probably qualify for an Energy Efficient Mortgage.

See what Ray Hall has to say in the video. Ask your mortgage lender about an Energy Efficient Mortgage. Efficient Energy Savers can provide the audit and the calculations for the EEM.

Here is the link to